21 April 2016
Consolidated report on the conflict in Georgia
(October 2015 – March 2016)
Document presented by the Secretary General
1. At their 1080th meeting on 24 and 26 March 2010, the Ministers’ Deputies took the following decision: “The Deputies, restating the previous decisions of the Committee of Ministers, invited the Secretary General to prepare his consolidated report on the conflict in Georgia based on his outline and taking into account the comments made during the present meeting”.
2. It is recalled that the objective of the report is to take stock of the situation in Georgia following the August 2008 conflict, to report on the related activities of the Council of Europe and to propose further Council of Europe action. The report is composed of four parts:
- update on major developments in the period under review;
- assessment of statutory obligations and commitments related to the conflict and its consequences;
- human rights situation in the areas affected by the conflict; and
- current Council of Europe activities aimed at addressing the consequences of the conflict, their follow-up, as well as proposals for future action.
3. This 13th consolidated report covers the period between October 2015 and March 2016. It builds on the previous consolidated reports, as well as Secretariat reports on the human rights situation in the areas affected by the conflict in Georgia and the report on the Council of Europe activities in the areas affected by the conflict and its updates.
4. The Secretariat carried out a fact-finding visit to Tbilisi on
29 February - 1 March 2016 and had the opportunity to discuss the situation with the Georgian authorities, the Public Defender of Georgia, representatives of international organisations and other interlocutors. The Secretariat wishes to express its gratitude to the Georgian authorities for their support in organising the visit and to all interlocutors, in particular the Co-Chairs of the Geneva International Discussions (GID), for their assistance and valuable contributions.
5. Despite repeated efforts of the Secretariat, the delegation was not allowed to visit Abkhazia and South Ossetia for the purpose of this consolidated report. The Secretariat, thus, had no opportunity to discuss with the de facto authorities the human rights situation on the ground or to reflect on their position on other issues touched upon in the present report. Notwithstanding these developments, the Secretary General intends to pursue his efforts in view of fact-finding visits to Abkhazia and South Ossetia for the preparation of future reports. At the same time, it should be noted that the Council of Europe (the Secretariat and experts) has enjoyed in the period under review access to Sukhumi for the purpose of implementation of Confidence-Building Measures (cf. Section IV.4).
6. This report does not replace the monitoring procedures established in the Council of Europe. Nor should it be seen as prejudging any possible decisions in the cases related to the conflict and its consequences, which are currently pending before the European Court of Human Rights.
7. Nothing in this report should be interpreted as being contrary to the full respect of the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Georgia within its internationally recognised borders.
8. This report does not prejudge or infringe upon a possible future political settlement of the conflict within the framework of the Geneva International Discussions, nor the implementation of the Six-point agreement of 12 August 2008 and the implementing measures of 8 September 2008.
I Update on major developments in the period under review
9. Upon his confirmation by the Parliament on 30 December 2015, the newly appointed Prime Minister Kvirikashvili vowed, among other things, to continue to engage constructively in the Geneva International Discussions and emphasised the Georgian government’s disposal to take “bold steps” in reconciliation efforts with Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
10. During the reporting period, the 33rd, 34th and 35th rounds of Geneva International Discussions (GID) took place on 6-7 October 2015, 8-9 December 2015 and 22-23 March 2016 respectively. The next round of talks will be held on 14-15 June 2016. In January 2016, Ambassador Günther Bächler was appointed by the OSCE
Chairperson-in-Office as Special Representative for the South Caucasus and OSCE
Co-Chair in the Geneva International Discussions.
11. Throughout the period spanned by the three rounds, the security situation on the ground was noted by the Co-Chairs to be relatively calm and stable. At the 33rd round, security-related issues, including threat perceptions as well as freedom of movement were the key issues in Working Group I, where the sides continued to work on a draft joint statement on the non-use of force. In Working Group II on the humanitarian situation on the ground, issues relating to multilingual education and languages of instruction in Gali schools, freedom of movement and mobility, missing persons and cultural heritage were raised, in addition to the issue of IDPs and refugees. Whilst similar matters and concerns were brought up at the 34th round, the two working groups could not complete their respective agendas due to persisting disagreements, notably on the issue of IDPs and refugees.
12. Despite difficulties on core GID agenda issues, all participants have on several occasions reiterated their commitment and interest to continue the discussions within the format, demonstrating a shared understanding of GID as a unique stabilisation and peace-building instrument. The Co-Chairs have noted that the talks are marked overall by a constructive atmosphere as well as open and frank exchanges. In October 2015, they urged all participants to show political will to sustain the momentum. An emerging tendency to open channels for bilateral contacts in the GID margins was also emphasised.
13. Against this background of encouraging dynamics, during the 35th round on
22-23 March, an important agreement was reached on the resumption of the Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism in Gali (see part III for more details). The step was the latest in a string of conciliatory developments since the year’s start, comprising inter alia the recent resumption of the tripartite Coordination Mechanism on missing persons related to the August 2008 conflict, chaired by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), as well as a trilateral parallel release of detainees by Georgian as well as de facto Abkhaz and South Ossetian authorities. At the same time, developments related to “borderisation” and implementation of the so-called “treaties” signed by the Russian Federation with Abkhazia and South Ossetia, continued to stir up tensions reverberating in turn on the talks and direct contacts between the parties.
14. Georgia has continued its pragmatic policy approach in the absence of diplomatic relations with Russia. During the reporting period mutual efforts were pursued to normalise ties in the fields of economy and trade, transport, culture and humanitarian affairs. Moreover, official representatives of both countries have on more than one occasion shown openness to hold bilateral meetings, including at the highest level, once the appropriate conditions are met. Georgian Prime Minister’s Special Representative for relations with Russia Zurab Abashidze and Russian State Secretary, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Grigory Karasin held two rounds of informal dialogue in Prague, on 19 November 2015 and on 16 March 2016.
15. Russia’s Foreign Ministry simplified the requirements for all types of visas for Georgian citizens, effective from 23 December 2015. In addition, the Russian authorities, including President Putin, have reiterated a readiness to lift fully the visa regime in this perspective.
16. However, on 15 March, Mr Karasin indicated that at present such step was not feasible due to security reasons, whilst echoing also the view that a certain difficulty in this respect was posed by the lack of diplomatic relations. In addition, he reportedly raised concerns in regard to statements used in Georgia ahead of the parliamentary elections, which according to him posed a threat to the bilateral normalisation process. The Russian Foreign Ministry has warned that such rhetoric also adversely affects the GID. On the other hand, the Georgian authorities firmly insist that full normalisation of bilateral ties can be attained only upon Russia’s respect for Georgia’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.
17. The Georgian authorities informed the Secretariat that the recommendations of the Venice Commission regarding the adoption of legislative amendments aimed at relaxing sanctions for rules of entry to Abkhazia and South Ossetia under Georgia’s Law on the Occupied Territories are under consideration in the Parliament. However, no progress in this respect has been reported. The Russian authorities continued to call for the law to be repealed, particularly in the light of the upcoming participation of Russian MPs in the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly session that will take place in Tbilisi, on 5-6 July 2016. Subsequently, while firmly ruling out the law’s abolishment until the country’s territorial integrity is fully restored Georgian government representatives signalled the possibility to introduce relevant amendments.
18. During the visit of the delegation, the Georgian authorities reiterated their serious concerns regarding the signature of a number of “sub-agreements”, in the context of implementation of the respective so-called “treaties” between Abkhazia and South Ossetia and the Russian Federation.
II Assessment of statutory obligations and commitments related to the conflict and its consequences
19. Below is an update on statutory obligations and specific commitments - as listed in PACE Opinions 193 (1996) and 209 (1999) - which have been selected for the purpose of reporting on the conflict in Georgia and its consequences. This part builds on Part 1 of the first and second consolidated reports on the conflict in Georgia (SG/Inf(2010)8 and SG/Inf(2010)19-final).
i. To accept the principles of the rule of law and of the enjoyment by all persons within its jurisdiction of human rights and fundamental freedoms, and to collaborate sincerely and effectively in the realisation of the aim of the Council of Europe
ii. To settle international as well as internal disputes by peaceful means (an obligation incumbent upon all member states of the Council of Europe), rejecting resolutely any forms of threats of force against its neighbours
20. There are no major developments to report on individual applications against Georgia, those against the Russian Federation or against both States pending before the European Court of Human Rights in connection with the August 2008 conflict. Nine out of 1,711 individual applications against Georgia were communicated and the parties have submitted their observations on admissibility and merits. The second Inter-State application No. 38263/08 is pending consideration by the Grand Chamber. The interim measure issued by the Court on 12 August 2008, inviting both governments to comply with their obligations under the Convention is still in force.
21. During the period under review, new developments were reported in the context of the investigation under the auspices of the International Criminal Court (ICC). On 27 January 2016, the ICC Pre-Trial Chamber I authorised the Prosecutor to proceed with investigating crimes falling within the ICC’s jurisdiction and allegedly committed in the “context of an international conflict”, “in and around South Ossetia, Georgia, between 1 July and 10 October 2008”. The Chamber concluded that there is a reasonable basis to believe that war crimes and crimes against humanity were committed against ethnic Georgians by South Ossetians along with war crimes relating to intentionally directing attacks by South Ossetian forces against Georgian peacekeepers and by Georgian forces against Russian peacekeepers.
22. The Pre-Trial Chamber also took the view that the Prosecutor appeared to have acted too restrictively on allegations of indiscriminate or disproportionate attacks against civilian targets by Georgian and Russian armed forces as well as on sexual and gender-based violence (not covered by the Prosecutor’s initial request). Nonetheless, it reckoned that these allegations could be investigated, whilst also clarifying that it was not necessary to limit the investigation to the crimes specifically mentioned in the authorisation decision.
23. The Georgian authorities welcomed the launching of the investigation and have vowed to co-operate actively. The Georgian Minister of Justice stated also that, in parallel to the ICC investigation, the reconciliation process with the Ossetian population should continue. The de facto authorities of South Ossetia have expressed willingness to
co-operate with “a professional and objective investigation, which takes into account the evidence of crimes collected in Tskhinvali.” On 19 February, however, the de facto President of South Ossetia reportedly blamed the ICC Prosecutor for acting against South Ossetia and Russia. Russia has also voiced reservations and indicated that it would be forced to “fundamentally review its attitude towards the ICC”.
24. On 16-18 February, Prosecutor Bensouda’s team conducted a first visit to Georgia. The Office of the Prosecutor continues to monitor the relevant national proceedings underway in the Russian Federation.
iii. To respect strictly the provisions of international humanitarian law, including in cases of armed conflict on its territory
25. The ICRC remains active in South Ossetia, where it supports principally efforts aimed at the clarification of persons unaccounted for in relation to the conflict. In a major positive step, the work of the Tripartite Co-ordination Mechanism, chaired by the ICRC, was resumed, and the sides were able to have their ninth meeting in Ergneti, on
5 February, following a pause of two years. All the participants agreed to act swiftly and take concrete steps concerning potential gravesites, as well as continue to collect and exchange information on the fate and whereabouts of the missing persons. Since the outset of the mechanism, the mortal remains of 14 people who died in the 2008 conflict have been recovered. Out of these, six have been identified and handed over to their families; the other eight have yet to be identified.
26. The delegation was informed that approximately 140 cases of missing persons from the conflict in the early 1990s would now be considered in parallel to the 2008 conflict caseload. This arrangement appears to have helped in achieving an agreement on the resumption of the mechanism. International interlocutors also gave credit to the work conducted in the framework of the IPRM on the case of three young Ossetians who went missing in the immediate aftermath of the conflict, in October 2008. The delegation was informed that the expert engaged by the OSCE Co-Chair of the GID had completed his work and presented his findings and recommendations to the sides.
27. In addition to the work on clarifying the fate of the missing persons, in South Ossetia the ICRC is engaged in cross-ABL medical evacuations, having facilitated a total of 237 in 2015 and some of 48 in early 2016, by the time of the delegation’s visit. It assists with family reunifications, family visits for prisoners on both sides of the ABL, exchange of messages by separated families and provides psychosocial support to families of the missing as well as support to mine victims. The ICRC is also currently involved in monitoring the training of Georgian armed forces and revision of manuals with the aim of better upholding International Humanitarian Law (IHL) standards.
iv. To co-operate in good faith with international humanitarian organisations and to enable them to carry out their activities on its territory in conformity with their mandates
v. To facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid to the most vulnerable groups of the population affected by the consequences of the conflict
28. The Georgian authorities continue to reiterate their support for international engagement that fosters the process of reconciliation of communities and people across the ABL and are in favour of expanding confidence-building mechanisms and channels. As previously mentioned, a number of concrete initiatives, notably in the areas of environment protection, cultural and archival heritage and missing persons have been propelled by the GID Co-Chairs. The delegation was informed that despite some difficulties the Liaison Mechanism, funded by the EU under the UNDP auspices continues to function in an effective manner.
29. Moreover, in meetings with the delegation, Georgian government representatives reaffirmed their openness for more active direct engagement with the populations in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. In this regard, they noted that their initiatives have had a positive echo on the Abkhaz side. The government is currently engaged in the reflection on new concrete proposals conducive to direct engagement.
30. Several international interlocutors reported about a renewed co-operation momentum in Abkhazia but noted that the de facto authorities insist on direct contacts and projects with international community, as part of broader efforts to achieve
de-isolation and enhance self-reliance. Against this background, the European Union (EU), United Nations (UN) and various states continue to fund and implement a wide range of humanitarian, protection, development and other co-operation actions in Abkhazia, in partnership also with international and local NGOs. The Georgian authorities reiterated that they support these activities as long as they serve the larger goal of overcoming divisions and are in line with the policy of engagement without recognition.
31. The third phase of the Confidence-Building and Response Mechanism (COBERM) funded by the EU and implemented by United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) was launched in January 2016. COBERM 3 will support initiatives of international and local NGOs in a wide range of areas and activities, including support to improvement of living conditions of local communities affected by conflict. A greater focus is expected on protection of cultural heritage, anti-torture action and people-to-people contacts.
32. International engagement in South Ossetia continues to be of a far more limited nature, due to considerably higher restrictions in terms of access and contacts. The delegation was informed that recent attempts by an international organisation to overcome this blockage had not resulted in the desired breakthrough.
III Human rights situation in the areas affected by the conflict
33. As mentioned in the Introduction to this report, the Secretariat was not able to obtain the agreement to visit Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The information presented in chapters III.1 to III.2 is therefore based on discussions with the Georgian authorities, representatives of the international community as well as open sources. The Georgian authorities continue to express strong concerns on the human rights situation on the other side of the ABL with Abkhazia and South Ossetia, including in the quarterly reports on the subject issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It was reported to the delegation by the Georgian authorities that no major changes in the human rights situation have taken place since the last consolidated report.
III.1 Reports on Abkhazia
34. During the period under review, the overall security situation remained generally calm and stable as also pointed out by the GID Co-Chairs. Interlocutors converged on the stabilisation effect of the Geneva International Discussions in the region.
35. Meanwhile, during discussions with the delegation, representatives of the Georgian government underlined their broader approach on the assessment of the security situation on the ground. In particular, they reiterated that despite the lack of security incidents, a combination of other factors, including “borderisation” and detentions on the ABL, lack of proper documentation and unclear rights, as well as shrinking access to education in native language, create a strong feeling of insecurity among the local population residing on both sides of the ABL.
36. Undoubtedly, a serious leap forward in tackling security problems on the ground was made through the decision to resume of the Gali Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism, during the 35th round of Geneva International Discussions, on 22-23 March. The Special Representative of the OSCE German Chairmanship stressed on this occasion that the joint decision to resume the IPRM “was a major step to increase confidence, transparency and predictability”. To recall, the Gali IPRM had remained non-operational since 2012, while the Ergneti IPRM with South Ossetia continued to meet regularly.
37. Regarding the hotline, the delegation received information that it continues to operate effectively, notably in cases of ABL crossings for medical treatment – some 39 reported cases since December 2015 – as well as detentions. The frequency of activations also appears to be higher more recently, which according to some interlocutors suggests increased communication between the sides.
III.1.ii Freedom of movement
38. It was reported to the delegation that the pace of “borderisation” activities continues unabated resulting in increased fencing along at least 14 km of the ABL, mostly in Lower Gali. The “borderisation” process continues to have a divisive impact on communities and restricts freedom of movement across the ABL. It also puts under continued strain the effective enjoyment of basic rights by the ethnic Georgian residents of Gali, who face obstacles in access to livelihood and employment, appropriate medical care and education, as well as when collecting pensions and other social allowances.
39. The Georgian government consistently and resolutely objects to the “borderisation”, and continues to raise concerns in the framework of the Geneva International Discussions. Along with Georgia, a number of international organisations and governments have also been consistent in their criticism of the process.
40. Regarding the ABL-crossing documents, it would appear that the ethnic Georgian population in Gali could still use for this purpose the former Soviet Union internal passports and the so-called Form no.9 after 1 January 2016. The delegation was informed that an additional document was introduced by the local de facto authorities with short temporary effect in mid-February, following which some 300 persons reported difficulties in crossing and were stranded in Zugdidi, on the government-controlled side of the ABL. This practice no longer seemed to be in place at the time of the delegation’s visit.
41. On 17 March, the de facto Government of Abkhazia decided to close down two out of five “authorised” pedestrian crossing points (with a capacity of some 100 crossings per day) on the ABL effective from mid-April. In the future, it is also reportedly planned to close down two additional crossing points following the construction of a road, intended to facilitate transport to and from the ABL, in the zone of Lower Gali.
42. Short-term detentions for “illegal border crossing” or violation of the “border-zone regime” continue to take place. As a rule, people are released after paying a “fine”. According to observers on the ground, a drop in the rate of detention was recorded in the three months preceding the delegation’s visit compared with the same period one year ago, possibly indicating that local residents may be wary of crossing in view also of the surveillance equipment installed in the ABL zone. The delegation was informed by international interlocutors of 319 confirmed detention cases in 2015. The Georgian authorities observed some 341 detention cases during the same period.
43. During the visit, the delegation was informed by various interlocutors about a new de facto law “on the legal status of foreign citizens” (for more details see the next chapter). While it would be difficult and too early to evaluate its precise implications on freedom of movement pending its entry into force, some interlocutors expected eventual complications in this respect. It was also brought to the delegation’s attention that a de facto law on entry and exit to Abkhaz territory, adopted on 29 December 2015, required citizens of all countries that have not signed “a visa-free agreement” with Abkhazia to obtain an entry visa starting from 1 April.
III.1.iii. Identity documents issues
44. On 29 December 2015, the de facto parliament of Abkhazia adopted the de facto law on “on the legal status of foreign citizens”. In a nutshell, the de facto law sets out the different grounds for the “legal status of foreigners (aliens)” in the territory of Abkhazia, outlines the corresponding different categories of residence documents and stipulates the rules for their acquisition/cancellation. It was signed by de facto President Khajimba on 26 February and entered into force on 1 April.
45. The de facto law is seen, inter alia, as an apparent effort to address the documentation gap affecting the majority of the ethnic Georgians in Gali, and to a lesser extent in Ochamchira and Tkvarcheli, following the invalidation of some 20,000 de facto Abkhaz passports (cf. previous consolidated reports). It is understood at this stage that under the new regulations, ethnic Georgians residing in Abkhazia who would opt to retain their Georgian passport could have the possibility to apply for temporary or permanent residence permits which can be renewed (stateless persons are also entitled to residence permits which will serve at the same time as IDs).
46. Apart from banning of electoral rights in all types of polls, including at the local level, there appears to be considerable lack of clarity regarding the rights and protection afforded by the new de facto law to the holders of the new documents. It is unclear, for example, if and how the holders of residence permits, including the ethnic Georgians who opt for them, can buy and/or register property and land. On 10 February, the speaker of the de facto parliament admitted that the de facto law indeed does not guarantee property rights for holders of residence permits but offered assurances that the Gali residents will continue to own their property whereas from a legal perspective such issues would be solved through a separate de facto law. The delegation was informed that this de facto legislation is indeed going through the de facto parliament. Pending further clarifications, however, the concerned population is likely to remain in a state of limbo and vulnerability.
47. The Georgian authorities held that the new de facto law was arbitrary and discriminatory in respect of the ethnic Georgian population in Abkhazia. They raised concerns on provisions, under which a residence permit can be refused or cancelled, notably if the person has expressed views against the “independence” and “sovereignty” of Abkhazia, among other various grounds. According to the Public Defender of Georgia, the local population was not sufficiently informed about the de facto law. Moreover, the delegation was also informed that Abkhaz NGOs in Gali have voiced concerns on the new de facto law.
48. Notwithstanding the adoption of the de facto law “on the legal status of foreign citizens”, it appears that the issue still remains a topic of heated public debate in Abkhazia. Abkhaz opposition parties have recently called for adoption of a special de facto law to address the problem of the legal status of the ethnic Georgian population in Gali.
49. It has been reported that the issuance of some 250,000 new de facto passports and 50,000 residence permits was expected to start in March. Pending their delivery to the ethnic Georgian population in Gali, de facto local elections in the district have been postponed for one year (in the rest of Abkhazia de facto local elections took place on
III.1.iv Access to education, including teaching of/in the Georgian language
50. Concerns persist on the adoption of the Russian language as a formal instruction language in grades from I to IV as well as the general reduction of Georgian language hours in 11 schools in Lower Gali, effective from September 2015. During the period under review, Abkhaz media have reported that the full transition to Russian language of remaining grades is planned to be implemented in the course of the next two or three years.
51. The Georgian authorities continue to decry the constraints on the right to education in one’s native language for schoolchildren in Gali and have asserted that the situation has repercussions on the GID. They drew the attention of the delegation to reports of harassment of teachers who are found to deliver classes in contravention of the new rules. Moreover, they expressed concerns once again over the fact that not all local teachers have sufficient command of the Russian language.
52. On the other hand, Abkhaz media reports seem to suggest that transition of Lower Gali schools to the Russian language is connected to the replacement of the Georgian education programmes with the standard curriculum of the de facto Ministry of Education, whereas the conditions for Abkhaz language teaching resources remain scarce. It is also understood that the de facto authorities expect the new rules to orient the schoolchildren in Gali towards further studies in the Abkhaz schooling and higher education system.
53. During the visit, some interlocutors noted that the lack of access to quality education is a longstanding problem of the Abkhaz education system. In this respect, they emphasised the urgent need to support a broader and comprehensive education reform for the benefit of pupils, which would uphold multilingual and multicultural standards and thus cater to the language rights of various population groups, including speakers of Abkhaz and Georgian languages alike.
54. The delegation was also made aware of cases involving some 37 local residents who, as of January 2016, had moved to government-controlled territory quoting the introduction of Russian as the instruction language as well as the low quality of education in Abkhazia among the main motives. The Georgian authorities put the number of schoolchildren who for these reasons were forced to leave school and to move to government-controlled territory at around 50.
55. The issue of access to education remains an acute problem also in relation to freedom of movement. It appears that over 50 pupils cross the ABL on a daily basis to attend school while detentions continue to occur. It was reported to the delegation that two detention cases involving four and three schoolchildren from the villages of Lower Gali took place on 27 January and 1 February respectively.
III.1.v Other human rights developments
56. On 11 February, the de facto parliament of Abkhazia adopted a de facto law on the Commissioner for Human Rights (Ombudsperson). The de facto law entered into force on 1 March. The de facto parliament should elect the Commissioner for Human Rights in accordance with the new framework three months after this date.
III.2 Reports on South Ossetia
57. While intensive “borderisation” is no longer observed in South Ossetia, the local population across the ABL reportedly continues to experience its adverse effects on their access to livelihood and freedom of movement. In a most recent episode, on 11 March it was reported that “borderisation” activities allegedly related to the digging of a fire protection furrow resumed close to the village of Jariasheni situated on the government-controlled side of the ABL. As a result, the local households reportedly had their lands bisected or fully lost access to them. As for the Tsitelubani households affected by “borderisation” activities in summer 2015, the delegation was informed that they had completely lost access to farming lands by November 2015 and that their plots were now being cultivated by South Ossetians. At the time of the delegation’s visit, no compensation had been reportedly received by these families.
58. As in previous similar cases, the Georgian authorities strongly condemned the incident in Jariasheni and raised it in the framework of the Ergneti IPRM as well as during the latest round of the GID on 22-23 March. The Georgian government continues to view such actions as detrimental to security and stability on the ground. Moreover, Georgian students staged two protests close to the site on 20 and 23 March. No incidents were reported.
59. As far as freedom of movement is concerned, no changes have been applied to the crossing documents for the ethnic Georgian residents of Akhalgori who do not possess a de facto passport. The temporary permits that were issued in 2014 are reported to be still valid whilst an additional few hundreds have been apparently distributed by the de facto local authorities. In early 2016, local residents complained about restrictions on ABL-crossings related to attendance of funerals in Akhalgori. More generally, it appears that persisting unclear rules and instructions create a situation of arbitrariness, which negatively affects freedom of movement.
60. Detentions for violation of ABL-crossing regulations continue to take place routinely. The large majority of “illegal crossings” is handled as an “administrative offence” and those detained are released shortly after upon payment of a fine. Repeated violations may, however, reportedly result in the launch of “criminal proceedings” by the de facto authorities.
61. On 26 November 2015, the de facto parliament adopted the de facto law “on the legal status of foreigners in the Republic of South Ossetia”. The new regulations entered into force on 1 March raising serious questions on the already peripheral status and rights of the ethnic Georgian population of Akhalgori. Some major concerns are related to the potential negative impact for those considered as foreigners on property rights, freedom of movement, labour and voting rights while it remains unclear how its provisions will impact the right to education.
62. The Georgian government and international interlocutors expressed satisfaction with the work of the Ergneti IPRM, in the framework of which the sides continue to meet regularly to discuss security and humanitarian realities on the ground. In the reporting period, the mechanism was instrumental in clarifying a number of incidents and in helping the sides achieve progress on missing persons and detention cases as well as on the issue of cleaning up the part of the Tiriponi irrigation channel situated in the area uncontrolled by the Georgian government.
63. During the period under review, the Georgian authorities and the de facto authorities of South Ossetia and Abkhazia reached an important agreement on a trilateral release of detainees. On 10 March, the Georgian authorities released four South Ossetian detainees. Simultaneously, the South Ossetian de facto authorities set free five detainees sentenced on different charges whilst eight more ethnic Georgians sentenced on grave crimes were released from the Abkhaz side. The handing over of the prisoners to respective receiving sides was organised at the ABL with Abkhazia in the presence of Georgia’s State Minister for Reconciliation and Civic Equality Zakareishvili, de facto Minister of Foreign Affairs of Abkhazia Chirikba and de facto Minister of Foreign Affairs of South Ossetia Tskhovrebov.
64. All sides praised the constructive approach and good will and gave credit to the GID format where lengthy negotiations were held even though the final agreement was reportedly reached without mediation. The Geneva Co-Chairs also welcomed the release as a “significant humanitarian act”, while noting that the displayed mutual understanding also “opens good prospects for further engagement”.
III.3 The situation of Internally Displaced Persons
65. As regards the right of refugees and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) to a safe, dignified and voluntary return, no progress can be reported. The de facto authorities object to raising the issue in the GID framework, as long as Georgia continues to discuss related resolutions in the UNGA, where they are unable to participate.
66. The government has continued to invest substantial resources in the provision of durable housing solutions (DHS) for IDPs, which remains a major priority of the state policy. The official estimations are that out of the total registered 86,970 IDP families, the majority (some 52,647 families) are still in need of DHS. Overall, according to the authorities, 34,323 families have been provided with durable housing.
67. Against this background, multiple programmes are currently being run by the Ministry of IDPs, Refugees and Accommodation. According to the MRA, several hundred families are expected to receive accommodation in 2016-2017 through a government programme on construction of new apartment blocks in main Georgian cities, while 774 families will benefit in 2016 under the “Redevelopers programme” converting idle buildings into housing units. In addition, 630 families are being provided with new apartments purchased from construction companies in the course of 2015-2016 in Tbilisi. The MRA continued the rehabilitation of collective centres in different regions providing durable housing to 150 families in 2015, whereas another 354 will benefit in 2016. Rural housing and mortgage loan repayment programmes will continue to run.
68. The MRA work was welcomed and credited by international and Georgian interlocutors, notably the Public Defender who has continued to monitor the situation. Concerns however persist on the unresolved housing situation of the majority of IDPs from the 1990s conflict who live in dilapidated collective centres that represent a threat to health and life. The situation with housing and property rights of many living in private accommodation remains uncertain.
70. Criticism has also been voiced on the slow pace of privatisation process. The MRA has indicated that it intends to review its housing policy with a view to fast-tracking procedures in this respect. According to the Georgian authorities, since the launch of the government’s programme on privatisation of lawfully owned IDP living spaces in the period November 2014-December 2015, 5,599 IDP families have received living spaces into their private ownership while 1,471 are expected to do so in 2016. In some cases relocation of IDPs is involved.
71. Alongside the provision of durable housing, in efforts to improve access to employment and livelihoods, in December 2015, the government endorsed a revised Livelihood Action Plan (2016-2017). It was underlined to the delegation that the revised document now places a stronger emphasis on IDPs’ self-reliance. Various measures are envisaged with a view to promoting entrepreneurship, livelihood opportunities in the agriculture sector as well as education and training. The plan is implemented by the Livelihood Agency under MRA in co-operation with other state agencies. A number of activities will be outsourced to NGOs.
72. According to the MRA, up to 2 million GEL are planned in terms of financial assistance to the socially vulnerable IDP groups in 2016.
73. The Interim Governmental Commission for the Needs of Villages located near the Dividing Line (established on 1 October 2013) continues to provide various kind of support to the returnee population on the ABL. It carries out works on rehabilitation and construction regarding water wells, cleaning of the Tiriponi irrigation channel (see also above), supply of fuel materials as well as equipment of schools with libraries, computers and internet network, organising outpatient medical facilities at some 23 villages. The identification of property owners and registration of land plots by National Agency of Public Registry for the residents of villages adjacent to the ABL is currently underway.
IV Activities of Council of Europe organs and institutions and their follow-up
IV.1. Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe
74. The PACE co-rapporteurs for Georgia, Mr Boriss Cilevic (Latvia, SOC) and Ms Kerstin Lundgren (Sweden, ALDE), conducted a fact-finding visit to Georgia from 12 to 15 October 2015. During this visit, they carried out a trip to the ABL with South Ossetia. The co-rapporteurs expressed concern about the continued “borderisation” and the moving of the ABL deeper into territory controlled by the central government. In an information note declassified after the visit, the co-rapporteurs also warned that if a de facto referendum on the breakaway region joining Russia, as announced on 19 October 2015 by the de facto President of South Ossetia, were to take place, it would violate international law and constitute a considerable, and unacceptable, escalation of the situation.
IV.2 Commissioner for Human Rights
75. During his follow-up visit to Georgia from 9 to 13 November 2015, Commissioner for Human Rights Muižnieks travelled to the ABL with South Ossetia, close to the village of Odzisi. He discussed the human rights situation in the conflict-affected areas with several interlocutors in Tbilisi and was informed about a number of worrying developments, including in relation to the right to education in one’s native language. The Commissioner noted a number of positive steps undertaken to improve the situation of internally displaced persons and the socio-economic conditions of those living close to the administrative boundary line while stressing that more needed to be done to address remaining issues of concern.
IV.3 Operational activities
76. An initial assessment of needs and situations was carried out in the framework of preparations for the new Local and Regional Development Project (LoRDeP) which is envisaged as follow-up to previous CoE action to address the 2008 conflict impact on cultural heritage and build environment. For this purpose, DGII organised a first workshop on 12-18 October 2015 with the involvement of the University of St. Etienne (France). The workshop report will detail proposals for action that will be discussed with the Georgian authorities.
Emerald Network (the Bern Convention) activities
77. The procedure of scientific evaluation of 13 sites, including in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, proposed by the Georgian Ministry of Environment Protection for inclusion in the Emerald Network of areas of special conservation interest continues. As formerly reported, the evaluation will be completed by 2017-2018 whilst the Emerald network together with specific measures for each site should be activated by 2020.
Access to justice and protection from discrimination for women IDPs
78. In the framework of the regional project on “Improving women’s access to justice in Five Eastern Partnership countries”, funded under the Programmatic Co-operation Framework (PCF) with the EU, a study was conducted on barriers, remedies and good practices for women’s access to justice in Georgia. The study focused among other things on the compound effects of multiple discrimination, including in the cases of women with an IDP background. Its findings and recommendation were presented at a conference in Kvareli, Georgia, on 5 and 6 November 2015, and made available to institutions mandated to provide initial or further training to judges and prosecutors.
IV.4 Operational activities on Confidence-Building Measures (CBMs) and their
(a) Activities organised during the reporting period
79. During the reference period, the implementation of CBMs was scaled up and evolved in terms of the diversity of themes and participants. The programme has been driven by the need to ensure sustainability and mutual trust between the participants and is closely coordinated with other actors active on the ground, including via the Office of Georgian State Minister for Reconciliation and Civic Equality (and the UNDP Liaison Mechanism). This chapter gives an overview of CBM activities implemented during the period under review, as well as an outlook on those already planned for the end of the year 2016.
CBMs with Abkhazia
80. The training of a group of 24 teachers from Tbilisi, Sukhumi and Gali on interactive, multicultural approach to language teaching continued with a second training session in Istanbul on 30 November – 3 December 2015. A third and last session will take place at the European Centre for Modern Languages (ECML) in Graz in June 2016. Teachers from the three locations developed concrete projects for classroom work on the basis of a common approach and themes. As a result, fruitful co-operation was developed, especially between teachers in Sukhumi and Gali. The Secretariat is currently exploring ways to ensure sustainability and greater diffusion of this approach to cover also the teaching of languages other than English.
81. Activities focusing on architectural heritage have focused on preparing the onsite pilot phase, which the group of experts from Tbilisi and Sukhumi proposed to organise in Novyi Afon. As reported previously, the pilot phase, initially scheduled for September 2015, had to be postponed to early spring. The Secretariat will organise an expert visit to Abkhazia during the last week in April 2016.
82. The third meeting between ombudsmen and civil society representatives from Tbilisi and Sukhumi is scheduled in Budapest from 28 to 30 June 2016. The meeting’s agenda shall cover the key issues of minority languages in education and the right to property. The meeting will take place in the context of the adoption of a new de facto law on the Ombudsman in Abkhazia (cf. part III.1.v).
83. As a follow-up to previous activities on prevention of violence against women, a specialised meeting of psychologists, social workers and educators working with children traumatised by violence, especially domestic violence, took place in Istanbul on 29-31 October 2015. Participants agreed that further work should be organised in three specific clusters (psychologists/psychiatrists, social workers and educators) in order to exchange good practices and increase capacities to help traumatised children. The first meeting of psychologists and psychiatrists’ cluster is scheduled for 17-20 May 2016.
84. On 2-4 February, participants from Sukhumi and Tbilisi met to discuss questions of empowerment of women and their role in decision-making in Yerevan. The meeting brought together journalists, educators, representatives of NGOs working on women rights as well as development for women and girls, including IDPs. This strand of the CBM programme will be followed by a special training for women on leadership capacities which will be organised during 2016, as well as a series of joint “train the trainers” sessions on CoE “Compasito” manual on human rights education of children.
85. In view of the interest indicated by the beneficiary groups towards the “European lectures” in February 2015, the Secretariat organised in Sukhumi a second round of lectures on 16-17 March 2016. The programme covered six themes: the European Court of Human Rights, the role of women in decision-making, data protection, multicultural education, the rights of disabled persons and the prevention of internet addiction. Approximately one hundred participants in Sukhumi – students, teachers, NGO representatives and professionals from the relevant fields – attended the lectures. A similar session was organised on 18 March in Tbilisi.
86. The “European lectures” have successfully served to identify further potential areas of interest for future action. As follow-up to one of the lectures of the February 2015 round, a new initiative on prevention and treatment of drug addictions has been launched with the goal to render available the expertise of the Pompidou Group to local medical and other staff. On 23-27 November 2015, the Secretariat organised a training session for a group of 23 psychologists, educators and decision-makers, in Frankfurt.
A second training is scheduled in Berlin from 4 to 7 April 2016.
87. The CBM programme is currently supporting the joint development of a publication based on archive materials existing in Tbilisi and Sukhumi on victims of 1937-38 repressions, in Abkhazia. Two meetings were held in Istanbul on 27-29 November 2015 and in Venice on 10-11 December 2015, while a third one is planned in Yerevan in May 2016. The aim of the publication is to collect and make available information on the disappearances, circumstances of imprisonment, convictions and executions of over 2000 persons.
88. During the period under review, steps were made towards a stronger involvement of journalists in the CBM programme. For this purpose, a meeting with journalists from both sides was held on 8-9 December 2015, in Venice, to explore possible co-operation initiatives. At present, activities in this field will consist of joint trainings, starting with a session on the role of media in addressing questions related to women’s rights and women empowerment, planned for the end of 2016, which will complement the ongoing initiatives described earlier.
CBMs with South Ossetia
89. The Secretariat pursued contacts with civil society in South Ossetia with a view to securing their engagement in the CBM programme. However, these efforts were significantly hampered by lack of access to Tskhinvali combined with the overall unfavourable climate for civil society groups in South Ossetia. It should be recalled that the Secretariat was forced to cancel the second training seminar on language teaching methods in a multicultural environment due to take place in Graz on 4-6 November 2015, as participants from Tskhinvali were unable to travel. At present, the Secretariat is trying to ensure access to activities organised for Abkhazia to a limited number of participants from South Ossetia. Two participants from Tskhinvali attended the European lectures in Sukhumi in March 2016.
(b) Plans for further action
90. The Secretariat will continue to reach out to and involve civil society and professional groups from both sides of the ABL in the CBM programme. Proposals for several initiatives are currently under discussion with the Office of the SMR and stakeholders in Sukhumi (via the Liaison Mechanism). Notably, preparations are ongoing on the development of activities focusing on environment protection and sustainable development, protection of rights of persons with disabilities as well as a series of trainings on interpretation techniques for Abkhaz participants.
List of acronyms and abbreviations
ABL Administrative Boundary Line
COBERM Confidence-Building Early Response Mechanism
DHS Durable Housing Solutions (for IDPs)
ECML European Centre for Modern Languages
EU European Union
GID Geneva International Discussions
ICC International Criminal Court
ICRC International Committee of the Red Cross
IDs Identity Documents
IDPs Internally Displaced Persons
IHL International Humanitarian Law
IPRM Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism
MRA Ministry of Internally Displaced Persons from the occupied Territories, Accommodation and Refugees of Georgia
PDO Public Defender’s Office
SMR State Minister for Reconciliation and Civic Equality
UN United Nations
 This document has been classified restricted until examination by the Committee of Ministers.
 SG/Inf(2010)8, SG/Inf(2010)19-final, SG/Inf(2011)8, SG/Inf(2011)24, SG/Inf(2012)5 and SG/Inf(2012)28-rev, SG/Inf(2013)13, SG/Inf(2013)38, SG/Inf(2014)17, SG/Inf(2014)41, SG/Inf(2015)18, SG/Inf(2015)41
 It is a fundamental objective of the member States of the Council of Europe to uphold the territorial integrity of Georgia. However, the Russian Federation recognised South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states on 26 August 2008.
 Russian MFA announcement on measures related to visa liberalisation for Georgian citizens, 22 December 2015.
 Statement of the Russian MFA on the forthcoming round of the GID, 21 March
 ICC Pre-Trial Chamber’s decision on the Prosecutor’s request for authorisation of an investigation regarding the situation in Georgia, §§29-32, 27 January 2016
 Ibid. §35
 Comment of the de facto Foreign Ministry of South Ossetia, 29 January 2016
 Official briefing of the Russian MFA Spokesperson, 29 January 2016.
 Statement of the Prosecutor of the ICC, 27 January 2016.
 Media comments of de facto parliamentary speaker V. Bganba on the outcomes of the de facto parliament’s session, 10 February 2016.
 Statement of the Georgian First Deputy Foreign Minister on the developments in the village of Jariasheni, 11 March 2016.